Such a matchup would take Ohio State back to New Orleans, where, as the No. 4 seed, it upset No. 1 Alabama in the first playoff, on New Year’s Day 2015. Alternatively, it would set up a rubber match between Alabama and Clemson, which have played each other in the past two national championship games, with each winning one.
Certainly Clemson, the defending champion and winner of the past three Atlantic Coast Conference titles, appears strong. The Tigers seemed to hardly miss quarterback Deshaun Watson, the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist who now plays for the Houston Texans; its sole loss, at Syracuse, came with quarterback Kelly Bryant out for part of the game with an injury. On Saturday, Clemson routed Miami (10-2), which entered the Atlantic Coast Conference title game ranked seventh, 38-3. Clemson also boasts wins over Auburn and two other ranked teams.
With decisive wins on Saturday in their conference championship games, Oklahoma and Georgia also positioned themselves for playoff spots.
Georgia, ranked No. 6 by the selection committee entering the weekend, redeemed a loss at Auburn last month when Georgia had been the top-ranked team in the country. That leaves Georgia with a 12-1 record, including wins over Auburn, ranked No. 2 going into the game, as well as over No. 15 Notre Dame (9-3) and No. 23 Mississippi State (8-4).
It was Georgia’s first SEC championship since 2005 and first under its second-year coach, Kirby Smart. Though a perennial contender, Georgia had not played for the national title in the three years of the playoff nor the 16 of the Bowl Championship Series, and was last the No. 1-ranked team in the country at season’s end after the 1980 season.
No. 3 Oklahoma (12-1) has twice beaten a solid Texas Christian team (10-3) — the second time on Saturday, for the Big 12 title, when T.C.U. was ranked 11th — and this season has also defeated Ohio State (10-2) and No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-3). Oklahoma’s sole loss came to Iowa State (7-5) by 7 points.
While Oklahoma’s win most obviously wiped out T.C.U.’s chance at the playoff, for practical purposes it also pushed out No. 10 Southern California (11-2), despite the Trojans’ triumph over No. 12 Stanford (9-4) in the Pacific-12 championship game Friday night. U.S.C.’s 31-28 win was no blowout, and ahead of it in the rankings entering Saturday were all six teams in the major-conference title games still to be played, plus No. 5 Alabama (11-1). The Trojans are almost certainly headed to the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30 in Glendale, Ariz.
Oklahoma’s victory accomplished one other thing: It cemented further — not that it needed it — the front-runner status of its senior quarterback, Baker Mayfield, for the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield, a previous finalist, had stood out in a field otherwise occupied by running backs who did not quite break out. He entered Saturday with the Football Bowl Subdivision’s highest completion percentage and yards per attempt and a blistering touchdown-to-interception ratio of 37 to 5. On Saturday, against T.C.U.’s eighth-ranked scoring defense, he threw for four touchdowns and 243 yards.
Oklahoma (and Mayfield) have now won the Big 12 for three consecutive years.
A.C.C. Championship: Clemson 38, Miami 3
No. 1 Clemson emphatically claimed its spot in the College Football Playoff with a big victory over No. 7 Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night.
The Tigers (12-1) came in ranked atop the playoff standings and should remain that way following the selection Sunday. Their decisive show left little doubt the defending national champs are looking to go back-to-back.
Kelly Bryant set a championship game record by completing his first 15 passes — surpassing the 13 straight completions of his friend and former teammate Deshaun Watson — and finished with 252 yards passing and a 27-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain.
The win was Clemson’s third straight ACC crown.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne opened the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown before Bryant’s twisting, 11-yard run for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. It was essentially over after that as the Hurricanes (10-2) have lost two straight.
Miami fell apart in the third quarter with a pair of interceptions by Malik Rosier, leading to 10 points for the Tigers. The Hurricanes, who had averaged 440 yards a game this season, finished with 214 yards. (AP)
Big Ten Championship: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 21
J.T. Barrett looked just fine Saturday. Now it is up to college football’s selection committee to decide whether No. 8 Ohio State has done enough to earn a playoff bid.
Six days after having surgery on his right knee, Barrett threw two touchdown passes, ran for another and had a crucial fourth-down conversion late in the game to give the Buckeyes a victory over previously unbeaten No. 3 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
Ohio State (11-2) claimed its first conference crown since its 2014 national championship season. The loss ended the nation’s longest active winning streak at 13 and probably doomed the playoff hopes of the Badgers (12-1).
The reason: Barrett’s incredibly speedy recovery.
While most athletes need at least two or three weeks to recover from minor knee surgery, Barrett told doctors and coaches he would be OK. And after watching Barrett in pregame warm-ups with a protective brace around the injured knee, Barrett got the starting nod and played like the three-time conference quarterback of the year.
After running nine yards to convert a third down on the Buckeyes’ second possession of the game, he found a wide open Terry McLaurin for an 84-yard TD pass to make it 7-0.
Two possessions later, Barrett’s threw a short pass to Parris Campbell, who turned a missed tackle into a 57-yard mistake for another score. Then after a 77-yard run by J.K. Dobbins, Barrett powered in from the 1-yard line to give the Buckeyes a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Barrett made some mistakes and missed some receivers.
But the only time he really paid for it came on an ill-advised pass from near his goal line in the first quarter. Barrett was picked off by Andrew Van Ginkel, who returned it nine yards for a Wisconsin score.
Otherwise, the Buckeyes were pretty much in control.
Barrett finished 12 of 26 with 211 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and rushed 19 times for 60 yards. (AP)
SEC Championship: Georgia 28, Auburn 7
Shaking off a blowout loss to Auburn just three weeks ago, Jake Fromm threw two touchdown passes and No. 6 Georgia made its bid for a spot in the football playoff by beating the No. 4 Tigers in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Auburn (10-3) was the hottest team in the country, rolling into Atlanta after wins over Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama in its last three games. But the Tigers were stymied by two crucial turnovers, a blocked field goal and a Georgia team eager to make up for its embarrassing 40-17 defeat on the Plains.
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the freshman D’Andre Swift provided a much more effective running game for Georgia than the first meeting, which opened up things for the freshman quarterback. Fromm completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown to Isaac Nauta in the second quarter and a 6-yarder to Terry Godwin with just over 13 minutes remaining that essentially sealed Georgia’s victory.
The Bulldogs claimed their first SEC title since 2005 and capped an impressive rise in Kirby Smart’s second season as coach. Georgia went 8-5 a year ago, but Nick Saban’s former defensive coordinator insisted he was establishing a culture that would return the team to national prominence.
It happened in Year 2.
Georgia (12-1), which was No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff standings, will surely move into the top four after its dominating performance against the Tigers. Auburn was ranked second in that poll but managed only 259 yards after piling up 488 in the Nov. 11 rout. (AP)
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma 41, T.C.U. 17
Baker Mayfield threw for four touchdowns as No. 2 Oklahoma staked its claim for the College Football Playoff in Arlington, Tex., in the return of the Big 12 championship game.
With their record 11th Big 12 title, the Sooners (12-1), who are ranked third for the playoff, are a lock to play in it for the second time in three seasons. They are the only Big 12 team to make the four-team playoff format, which started in 2014.
Oklahoma jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead with the help of Caleb Kelly’s 18-yard fumble return for a touchdown after running back Kyle Hicks’s turnover on the first offensive play by Texas Christian (10-3).
Kenny Hill threw two touchdown passes to get the Horned Frogs to 24-17 at halftime, but Oklahoma scored twice on its first three offensive plays after the break.
Mayfield, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, which will be named next week, finished 15 for 23 passing for 243 yards and was the game’s most valuable player. The first two touchdowns were to tight end Mark Andrews.
Hill opened the second half with three consecutive incompletions. On the first play after the punt, Mayfield hit Mykel Jones for a 55-yard catch-and-run score.
On fourth-and-1 from the Oklahoma 41 on the next drive, Hill bootlegged to the right side. Defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo chased him toward the sideline before Parnell Motley delivered the crushing blow that kept T.C.U.’s quarterback from getting a first down.
Two plays later, Marquise Brown made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab for a 52-yard touchdown and a 38-17 lead. (AP)